Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A History of Pi” as Want to Read:
A History of Pi
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

A History of Pi

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  1,324 ratings  ·  74 reviews
The history of pi, says the author, though a small part of the history of mathematics, is nevertheless a mirror of the history of man. Petr Beckmann holds up this mirror, giving the background of the times when pi made progress -- and also when it did not, because science was being stifled by militarism or religious fanaticism.
Paperback, 208 pages
Published July 15th 1976 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published January 1st 1971)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A History of Pi, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A History of Pi

Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. HofstadterFermat's Enigma by Simon SinghFlatland by Edwin A. AbbottThe Code Book by Simon SinghZero by Charles Seife
Best Books About Mathematics
22nd out of 191 books — 295 voters
1984 by George OrwellNorthern Lights by Philip PullmanCatch-22 by Joseph HellerThe Three Musketeers by Alexandre DumasWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Nicolle's Reading List
19th out of 89 books — 26 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Andrew Breslin
I received this book on March 14, during my annual pi day celebration. We had finished the pizza, but hadn’t gotten to the apple pie yet. We were listening to a special music mix for the occasion, including “Circle Dream,” by 10,000 maniacs, “Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show and of course, “American Pie,” by Don Mclean. And while the pie was delicious, this made for an even tastier dessert.

What the world needs now are more opinionated and bellicose mathematicians, and I’m itching to pumme...more
Chad Bearden
The fact that it was written in 1971 adds a little bit of out-of-date flavor that makes "A History of Pi" a lot more amusing than it otherwise might have been.

As a history of pi, it kind of doesn't really work for a couple of reasons. First of all, its not really a history of pi. Its more like a history of mathematics in general. But even there, its far too anecdotal to serve as any real history lesson. Beckmann jumps and skips from one era to another giving you the lowdown on a random sampling...more
In the first few pages, the author describes this book as being 'light on the math.' Well, you could have fooled me! Clearly, it is a book about math, and more than that, it is a book about a transcendental number, a constant that can NOT be written. So, starting from that point, you know that any math this *is* included is likely to be bizarre. Fair enough.

However, when the first few examples he gives of how the ancients found their values for pi are rendered into oh-so-simple differential calc...more
Keith Parrish
When my oldest daughter was accepted to the North Carolina School of Science and Math (a college level high school for the smartest and nerdiest students in North Carolina), I went with her to orientation. At one of the sessions, the chairman of the math department came out and said, "This is what we teach in math here at NCSSM." Forty-five minutes later I leaned over to my daughter and said, "Have you understood anything in the last 45 minutes?" Saying that she had, I was baffled but reassured....more
I had no idea the history of a transcendental number could be so politicized! Wastes an entire chapter complaining about how the Romans were a bunch of pricks that he describes as a "thug state." Good for a giggle, and some good info about pi, but he holds nothing back when it comes to his Zionist agenda.
The title is pretty self-explanatory. You want to know how pi was discovered? Read this.

For some reason I'm semi-fascinated with the discovery of math... If anyone knows a good book about vectors let me know!
The History of π is a fascinating work in the sense that it provides a narrative which frames for the reader, the development of this infamous mathematical constant’s calculation. The logical sequence of mathematical proofs as interwoven with the text is surely the strong point of the work. The weakness lies in the author’s multitude of obvious personal biases. Beckmann’s passionate political views quickly transform his attempt at a serious account in the history of science, to an ardent rant ag...more
This is one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read.

I stumbled across it in the process of looking for Beckmann's monograph "The Scattering of Electromagnetic Waves from Rough Surfaces" for some E/M research I was involved with. It's a great treatise, but that's beside the point. Next to it on the shelf was "A History of Pi."

Pi itself is an interesting subject, but Beckmann is only hijacking the fundamental constant to tell the broader story of the history of mathematics. Each milestone, ea...more
Jan 01, 2008 Owen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2008
This is the kind of book that Barnes & Noble publishes then practically gives away around Christmas as suggested stocking stuffers. I think that's how I ended up with it. Anyway, this book turned out to be much better than anticipated. It traces pi throughout history, going back to Babylonians and Egyptians and guessing how they might have arrived at their calculations. Practically every famous mathematician--Euclid, Descartes, Archimedes, Galileo Newton, Euler, etc--is discussed here, as pi...more
I'm enjoying this book; even with Beckmann's rants. But my problem is with his willful ignoring of facts, especially when you consider how little tolerance Beckmann has for good research. For example take this passage from the chapter Night:
In 1486, Torquemada sentenced the Spanish mathematician Valmes to be burned at the stake because Valmes had claimed to have found the solution of the quartic equation. It was the will of God, maintained the Grand Inquisitor of the Holy Office of the Inquisit
Stuart Macmartin
A lot of good information, some fun facts and something about various mathematicians. I agree with many reviewers' comments about his rants - sometimes I wondered if the point of the book was to be a soapbox for railing against any kind of oppression, especially against science. These asides were sometimes fun but got in the way of the history, and his broad simplistic characterizations of some societies didn't help his credibility. His last chapter was a bit naive even for the time, IMO.

I did f...more
There are many great books about the history of science, so it would be a shame to waste my time on one that is more about rants (based on Soviet books) than about history. This is not only one of the rare books that I couldn't read through to the end, it's the first and the only book I've literally thrown away into garbage.
Steven P.R.
This is a good book that explores the development of Pi throughout the ages and goes into history as well. But the author does have a bias against Rome, which is telling in a chapter called "The Roman Pest." Despite this, however, I felt A History of Pi was an easy read and I gleaned a lot of information from it.
"'History records the names of royal bastards, but cannot tell us the origins of wheat.'" (quoting Jean Henri Fabre, 9)

"'I thought it fit to write out for you and explain in detail in the same book the peculiarity of a certain method, by which it will be possible for you to investigate some of the problems in mathematics by means of mechanics. This procedure is, I am persuaded, no less useful even for the proofs of the theorems themselves; for certain things first became clear to me by a mechani...more
Mikko Karvonen
Fascinating subject - awful book.

While Beckman may know his mathematics and the story of pi, he lacks many other qualities necessary to write historical books. The writing is full of factual errors and problematic generalizations about non-mathematical things, as well as obnoxious and belittling attitude towards ancient cultures, their achivements and views of the world. A history books should not include off-hand remarks on how many historical mathematical documents arabs wiped their bottoms wi...more
The author of this text is an Electrical Engineer by trade, and this contributes to the lion's share of the comedy throughout. Beckmann is ridiculously biased in favor of the practical application of mathematics, falling all over Archimedes in the beginning of the book and going non-stop from there. The history of Pi is the history of humanity, and this is a good overview, touching on many of the actors who contributed to it over the centuries. His admiration for Newton and Euler shine through,...more
Aug 05, 2009 James rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: maths
An entertaining account of Pi in it's historical context. Beckmann has a tendency to go on tangents in an attempt to analyze why certain societies were important in Pi's history and others weren't. Some of these tangents are more interesting than others, but it is usually easy to separate Beckmann's opinion from historical fact. I was impressed with a few of the geometric presentations included (such as Descartes's method for finding Pi). I wish more information about continued fractions and the...more
James Lundy
Mar 27, 2008 James Lundy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: nerds, math fans, history buffs, people who study numerology
The history of math and science (and therefore scientific thought, and therefore mankind) is a fascinating field. I was exposed to it in high school by a Jesuit priest who was a fanatic about it. I think I remember more about the history of science than I do about science. Anyway, this is a good read, maybe lasts a little longer than your interest in Pi does but I think it walks the middle road between too simplified and too scholarly. If you don't read the book remember this: if you have a calc...more
Kirttimukha TheCat
Really interesting historical discussion of the development of Pi and it's continuing refinement. The author is quite opinionated, but in that gives a new and interesting perspective on history. He is critical of the pax romana for example, because it is a peace achieved by conquering those who would normally fight each other. My favorite chapter is about Pi in the computer age. The book was published in 1970 and the description of a device that is cutting edge technology and roams the physics l...more
Junaid Selahadin
I'm very interesting on pi and I'm very exiting now .i want read now .thank u
Everything I ever wanted to know about the number Pi: its influence on early cultures, its various origins, simple applications, its significance as an irrational number, the absurd pursuits of the endless digits, etc. (it's been sometime since I've read this so I know I'm missing some stuff)

This book is not boring. If you are willing to open your eyes to the beauty of mathematics then exploring the number Pi will astound you with humanity's desire to understand this significant and, equally, in...more
Aug 29, 2010 Joe rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: physics
Beckmann's book is not really a history of pi so much as it is a history of mathematics peppered with diatribes about how dumb the Romans were. Seriously, he throws the words "thugs" and "thieves" around quite a bit and makes more than one comparison to the Nazis and Stalinist Russia. It's pretty great!

I couldn't say there is much to be taken away from A History of Pi though. It's engaging and well-composed, but not very thought-provoking absent any real controversy or plot direction. It's just...more
Tippy Jackson
He goes through history and discusses different civilizations approximations of pi. Pretty interesting to learn about the development of this concept and what it afforded it's developers. His promise of simple math...not so much. I could follow it sort of, although it was easy enough to just skip it and get the idea, which he also states. I loved that the book has pi written to ridiculous places in it. Most amusing. It seems as though the author regularly updates this book as well.
Ekaterina Gayetskaya
This is a very interesting account of mathematics' most infamous number and it's accuracy tracked chronologically through different civilizations. The author draws sociological conclusions relating the accuracy of Pi to how brutish or religious a society was that might make a sociologist or an anthropologist cringe, but to a mathematics degree such as myself it was rather enlightening. Note that the author has no use for religion or communism and does not mince words about either.
Okay, I don't know who I could recommend this one to, but I liked it. The book enjoys the same weakness of most scientist-authored popular texts, it is seeded with strong-opinion side notes and rambles painfully. But I found many of the authors opinions enjoyable. Especially his commentary on Rome as 'the only thug-state that successfully conned its posterity into thinking it great'. Wish I could find the book right now to get the quote.
Oct 24, 2008 ajp3 rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to ajp3 by: me
great book. read if you're interested in the historical account of the circle ratio, and the thinkers who went digit hunting long before we had calculators with pi programmed to twenty something digits into them. this is not a math book - there is no math in it - but you might find yourself interested in mathematics after reading it. it's short and the writing style is alive with hate for the establishment and passion for free thought.
This book was interesting early on, but became less so the further I read. I think that's partly because it's written by a historian with no formal mathematics background. Once the book reaches the modern age of mathematics and mechanical methods of calculation, the "history" part of Pi becomes less important than the technology developed to calculate it accurately. Overall, though, I give it 3.14 stars.
The calculus and trig are a bit tedious and aggravating for any non-math majors (but then why are you reading this book?)
More interesting are Beckmann's historical comments, referring (with justification) to the Romans as "thugs", and the odd rant about Soviet supression, which seems to the modern reader as naturally dated.
SO FASCINATING!!!! This is the only popular science-type book I've read, I think, but I'm now a huge fan and hope to read many more. The author's militant anti-Soviet Unionism was also amusing. (His background makes these sentiments totally understandable.)
A Searle
This is a must read for everyone. This book was so good that I could not put it down. It is very insightfully about the discovery of calculations of Pi and some interesting facts about its history. Can't wait to buy it for my mom for mother's day.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • e: the Story of a Number
  • An Imaginary Tale: The Story of the Square Root of Minus One
  • The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero
  • The Joy of Pi
  • A Tour of the Calculus
  • Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics
  • The Mathematical Experience
  • The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number
  • Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers
  • The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics
  • Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics
  • The Infinite Book: A Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless and Endless
  • Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem
  • Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
  • The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics
  • The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics
  • Men of Mathematics
  • God Created The Integers
The Health Hazards Of NOT Going Nuclear Hammer and Tickle: Clandestine Laughter in the Soviet Empire Einstein Plus Two The structure of language,: A new approach Whispered Anecdotes: Humor from Behind the Iron Curtain

Share This Book